The right to keep and bear arms is one of the most passionately debated issues on the American political stage. Patriots, gun owners, liberals, the media, hunters - a dozen different factions are wrangling back and forth to determine what the role of firearms will be in the future of this country.
We who follow the way of the warrior have an interest in this debate. Guns represent the weapons technology of our era, and, however much we might hearken back to the gleaming blades of an earlier century, we owe it to ourselves to follow the back-and-forth of this controversy.
The Second Amendment to the Constitution is the main line of defense against gun-grabbers, of course. But our involvement with weapons, and their essential role in preserving freedom and honor, goes back far into the dim mists of history - to a time when the Constitution and the nation it came to represent was undreamed of.
In ancient Europe, weapons had a religious character. Odin, father of the Gods in the Norse myths, carried a great spear named Gungnir. He wandered around the world, disguised in his floppy hat and long cloak, giving magical swords to his favored heroes. With these, they were expected to perform great deeds on the battlefield and, when their lives were done, to join Odin in Valhalla. There, with other great souls, the hero would prepare for the ultimate conflict of Ragnarok.
There is some evidence that the fallen warrior's weapon would accompany him into the afterlife. He was buried with it, of course, but that's not all - in some graves, the sword has been heated and twisted out of shape, as though it was being "killed" so that its spirit could accompany that of its owner into the Otherworld. Besides, he would no doubt need it as he walked the dangerous, ordeal-ridden "Hel-road" that leads to the realm of the Gods.
In Germanic society, however, weapons weren't just present at the end of life. They played a role in its beginning, as well. A new-born infant would be offered a taste of salt from the tip of a sword as its welcome into the world. Later, when he grew into manhood, the youth would be given his first shield and blade (whether sword, or axe, or spear) on the day he was initiated into the tribal assembly. This panoply represented his duty to defend his kin, as well as his rights as a freeman - even then, the link between weapons and freedom was understood. This folkway carried over into the Middle Ages, when a man about to be knighted stood prayerful vigil over his arms and armor throughout the night.
Oaths were sworn on weapons, and the steel might be called upon to turn against its owner if the words which were spoken over it were not true.
In the lore of the Vikings, Odin himself tells his followers to be armed. As the poem called the Havamal warns us,
A wayfarer should not walk unarmed,
But have his weapons to hand:
He never knows when he may need a spear,
Or what menace meet on the road.
But it wasn't just the Norsemen who idolized their weaponry; the ancient Celts shared this sentiment. The Iceni, as a typical British tribe, possessed certain weapons which were held to be particularly sacred. The Romans decided to confiscate them to prevent an uprising - thereby bringing about the very thing they were hoping to avert. Under their fiery queen, the red-haired Boudicca, the Iceni rose in revolt and almost ended the Roman occupation of the British Isles.
Such a preoccupation with instruments of destruction, some might say, is now out of date. After all, we live in a kinder, gentler world than that of the ancient Teutonic and Celtic tribes. We're civilized now. Death doesn't threaten our daily lives, and if danger does appear, we call the police.
One problem with this viewpoint is that the police often don't come, or they don't come in time to do any good. You could get killed many times over, with a gratuitous rape thrown in for good measure, between the time your fingers dial 911 and the time a squad car pulls up in front of your house. The cops are outnumbered, outgunned, and generally out of the scenario. In real life, you're on your own.
While we're at it, let's look at the idea that our world is less violent than that of, say, the Vikings. According to M.I. Steblin-Kamenskij in his book The Saga Mind, we have a record of acts of violence in Iceland over a period of several centuries. At the height of the heroic age in that Viking colony, when every freeman carried a sword or axe or spear, the per capita murder rate was a lot less than in most urban areas in America today! We live in an extremely violent time, and the prognosis is for more of the same.
Advocates of gun control might argue reluctantly that even if times haven't changed, technology has. Guns are not swords. Any religious or cultural arguments made for edged weapons are irrelevant in an age of semi-automatic rifles and pistols. In putting forth this idea, however, they forget several facts.
For one thing, the role of the individual weapon has remained unchanged. It ultimately does not matter if the device that deters attack on an innocent person is a knife, a battle-axe, a 9mm Browning pistol, or one of the dreaded "assault rifles." The goal is to keep the would-be mugger, rapist, or murderer at bay. Since the assailant may be equipped with modern arms, the potential victim must be likewise prepared. Secondly, from the days of King Olaf to the present, weapons in the hands of individuals have been a safeguard against tyrannical rulers. This is just as true for us as it was for the farmers who defended freedom in old Norway. However, the sharpest sword is no match for the guns of even a very third-rate army at the close of the twentieth century; logic and common sense compels free citizens to have firearms - and not muzzle loaders, either! Finally, there is precedent for declaring guns to be the spiritual equivalent of ancient blades; the Japanese acknowledged rifles as the successors to the samurai swords of old, during the Second World War.
When you take a good look at history, you see that the right to possess arms is not something that appeared miraculously in colonial America. This is a folkway with its roots lost in European prehistory, and those roots are as much spiritual as they are governmental. Ultimately, bearing arms is a religious right, and thus cannot be abrogated by any state.
To make this really clear, think back to that old movie, The Vikings. In this epic, Ragnar (Ernest Borgnine) is about to be fed to the wolves. He asks for the right to die "like a Viking," with a sword in his hand, lest he not be admitted to Valhalla. Now, there's a bit of modern myth-making here; the rules for entrance to Odin's hall are not laid out nearly so exactly in any of the sources that scholars know. But the spirit of Ragnar's request remains valid. We do know that Valhalla was not for the lowly or common. The early Danish hero Biarki, speaking of Odin, says that
War springs from the nobly born; famous pedigrees are the makers of war. For the perilous deeds which chiefs attempt are not to be done by the ventures of common men...No dim and lowly race, no low-born dead, no base souls are Pluto's [Read: Odin's] prey, but he weaves the dooms of the mighty, and fills Phlegethon [Valhalla] with noble shapes.
Slaves shall never sit at Odin's table, or quaff the mead poured by valkyrie's hands. And throughout history, one trait more than any other has been the hallmark of slaves: They are forbidden weapons.
The conceit of the twentieth century is that we have done away with slavery. But make no mistake, anyone disarmed by the state is a slave, no matter how free he is to frequent the shopping malls, or how new the car that sits in his garage. I cannot speak for Odin, but I believe that no man or woman who turns in his or her gun to the government will ever look on the faces of the blest in Valhalla. Surrender your "assault rifle," and be doomed to the cold and murk of Hel's home; you have no place among heroes.
Outmoded philosophy? I think not. The nature of tyranny has not changed in a thousand years, nor has the liberty-loving heart that resists it. And I am confident that admittance standards for Valhalla have not been "dumbed down."
All of this would be theoretical if the heroic religion of the Vikings and their European cousins was extinct. But that religion, called Asatru, survives today and still speaks uncompromisingly for the spirit of our ancestors. Would-be dictators will meet the opposition of dedicated men and women who will not give up their rights in the face of either fashion or force.
As this article shows, the right to arms is far older than the American Constitution. It is planted deep in the bedrock of ancient European culture and religion. Will we let today's slave masters hew down the Teutonic oak of freedom with an axe stolen from a freeman's hands? Will we allow them to shoot it in half with guns pried from the fingers of dead heroes? Never! For we of Asatru, the bearing of arms is not just custom, not just a legal right, but a matter of the troth that binds us to our Gods. Tyrants, beware!